Cirque du Soleil
Monday, Nov. 28, 2011 | 12:32 p.m.
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With preplanned military precision, a fearsome fleet of more than 45 semis, buses and vehicles for the 220-strong cast, crew, equipment, instruments, scenery and theatrical-rigging equipment of Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” spectacular will roll onto the Strip early this week. It will take some 14 hours to set up the largest-ever rock road show for Saturday’s glittering gala premiere, which kicks off the near monthlong run at Mandalay Bay.
More Cirque executives and show creators in the celebration convoy will arrive to join festivities for the first-ever and only Estate-authorized Michael Jackson Fan Fest, with memorabilia and authorized items from Neverland curated especially for the history-making 24-day, twice-nightly run. In all: 117 people in the production team, including 68 technicians; 90 people in the artistic team, including 65 performers; and 16 people in the touring management. An additional 75 Las Vegas workers will be hired as local crew.
Ahead of the Las Vegas extravaganza, which features 32 of Michael’s hits in each 2-hour performance, I flew to Cirque’s world headquarters in Montreal for the show’s world premiere in October. I can tell you it is absolutely amazing, riveting and extraordinarily entertaining -- unlike anything you’ve ever seen before in an arena touring concert. The legend not only lives on, but also will live forever!
It took more than 9,000 hours to create the props and puppets used in “Immortal,” including the 6-foot-tall elephants inspired by Elizabeth Taylor’s gifts of Baba and Gypsy to Michael. Twelve video projectors are used on the screens, and the cast changes in and out of 252 costumes, which have thousands of individual pieces.
Four special highlights you daren’t miss: the one-legged hip-hop dancer who will baffle and thrill with his unique acrobatic skills in tandem with twin dancing sensations Larry and Laurent Bourgeois; the sonic rainforest created for the “Ben” number with all the different animal sounds created by Taiko drums; you don’t just hear the string section in “Childhood” in normal stereo -- the entire orchestra spreads out through the audience, as do the dancers in their robes for the emotionally heart-stopping “Will You Be There” holding blinking hearts with 275 lights that change colors on their costumes to merge into a sky-bound constellation; and also give a little extra applause to my friend Tina Guo, the sexiest electronic cellist on Earth who will knock out the audience.
In Canada, I interviewed the creative and genius musical team for “Immortal,” and all this week leading up to Saturday’s debut, we’ll feature those conversations here daily at VegasDeLuxe.com. Then be sure to obtain your copy of the Las Vegas Sun’s “Immortal” special edition on Saturday. In this series, you’ll read about Jamie King, director; Chantal Tremblay, director of creation; Greg Phillinganes, musical director; Kevin Antunes, musical designer; Michael Curry, props and scenic designer; Mark Fisher, set designer; Olivier Goulet, projection and video content designer; Zaldy Goco, costume designer; and Martin Labrecque, lighting designer.
“Immortal” is the world’s largest Michael Jackson theatrical show, and Cirque, who last week announced the surprise 2012 closing of its Elvis Presley show “Viva Elvis” here at Aria, has a $100-million bet riding on the King of Pop’s success. It will be a full year after “Immortal” moves on from Las Vegas to continue its global 4-year tour before a second and permanent Michael Jackson show residency -- and Neverland-themed nightclub -- by Cirque opens at Mandalay Bay’s Lion King Theater, which closes here Dec. 31 for the 12-month makeover. After the expected shuttering of “Viva Elvis,” Michael’s show will then be the seventh Cirque show on the Strip.
Michael’s love affair with Cirque began in the late 1980s when he went to its tent show in Santa Monica, Calif., with lawyer John Branca, who serves as the Estate’s co-executor today. “I'll never forget it. We drove to Santa Monica together -- no bodyguards -- and sat there in the front row,” John told me. “Michael was dazzled, and backstage after the show he wanted to meet all the performers. It was a very passionate evening. He became a huge Cirque fan.”
Michael, who saw every Cirque show here more than once, visited Cirque headquarters in Montreal in 2004 and had many talks about working with the French-Canadian performing troupe on a show in which he would star. Cirque President and CEO Daniel Lamarre said, “Just as Michael was ahead of his time, we had to be ahead of our time with this show. Not only have we used all the technology there is, but we have developed new technologies to create a breakthrough as Michael did when he was touring.”
Every creative person on the “Immortal” team that I spoke with told me that right from the first day of rehearsals, they all felt that Michael was still with them in spirit, not only watching over the production but also that this was the show he would have blessed and wanted himself.
Creator, writer and chief choreographer Jamie King told me: “Our performers are honored, inspired yet humbled in maintaining his legacy and preserving what he left behind for the world to enjoy. They feel Michael is here in every way. As much of an emotional roller coaster ride it has been, they are proud to be a part of it.
“Michael has been the guiding hand in all of this, and he would have definitely signed off on it, as well. The entire show is generated from his lead vocals, from the master recordings, and so he’s with us every night. There are elements that bring him back to life. This has become the tour he couldn’t do.”
First up today, we have our conversation with Michael’s brothers Marlon, Tito and Jackie, and their verdicts on “Immortal.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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